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Southerner’s crash landing

Department of Conservation Wairarapa biodiversity supervisor Briggs Pilkington and ranger Faith Dornan recover a juvenile mollymawk that crash-landed west of Greytown. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Mollymawk on the mend

It wasn’t quite an ancient mariner, but an unexpected visitor to a paddock west of Greytown on Monday looked equally out of place.

Cathy Jensen was walking her dog Moose towards Woodside when she spotted what she thought was a seagull in a paddock.

“I thought, ‘that’s a big seagull’, but as I walked on I decided ‘that’s no seagull’, and went back for another look,” she said.

The distinctive beak gave the game away, and when she texted her husband a photo with the question “albatross?”, he thought she might be right.

After getting a second opinion from her parents, who live nearby, she sent photographs to the Department of Conservation who were quickly on the scene and confirmed the visitor was a mollymawk, a medium-sized albatross species more commonly found in the Southern Ocean.

Despite its considerable size, the bird was thought to be either a juvenile black-browed or grey headed mollymawk, which are almost identical as young birds. Both species breed on sub-Antarctic islands and are known to visit New Zealand waters.

DOC Wairarapa Biodiversity Supervisor Briggs Pilkington said it was highly unusual to find a mollymawk so far inland.

“These are ocean birds that only come ashore to breed,” he said. “If you see one on land they are likely in some sort of trouble. This bird probably blew in from Cook Strait in the last southerly and was too weak to fly back.”

Having made what was likely to have been a heavy landing in the paddock, the bird would have found it difficult to get airborne again – usually they can fly off cliffs or launch themselves off waves at sea.

Jensen said capturing the bird was reasonably stress-free.

“When they approached, it started walking towards the fence, but it wasn’t rushing.

“It was actually very calm, and when they put it in the carry box it was curious but not worried,” she said.

“It was pretty special to find out that it was a kind of albatross.”

DOC staff took the bird to Wildbase Hospital in Palmerston North, which is attached to Massey University’s School of Veterinary Science and New Zealand’s specialist wildlife hospital.

“The bird was a bit underweight and needed re-hydrating and feeding,” Pilkington said.

“Mollymawks get all the food and water they need from the sea, so it didn’t have much of a future in Greytown.

“We are very grateful to Cathy, who called the DOC Hotline, and waited with it until we arrived.”

Pilkington says the Wildbase vets expect the bird to make a full recovery and it will be returned to its natural environment, probably with the help of a commercial fishing boat.

To report injured native wildlife call the DOC Hotline 0800 DOC HOT [0800 362 468].


  1. Saw that bird along our driveway inTauherenikau on 8th April. I thought it was a penguin at first glance but at a second look couldn’t figure out what it was.

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